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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Grand Tour - St. Croix, Part 6


As our clothes spin in the dryer in the beach side laundry room, we’re waiting in the lobby with a half-dozen other guests. Elizabeth Armstrong, the owner of the Buccaneer Hotel, is regaling us with the history of the island and the hotel itself.

The earliest known existence of man dates back two and a half millennia. Groups of natives gradually emigrated up the island chain from South America, becoming the Caribs. Of course, you can see where the region got its name.


More recently, Spanish, French, and Dutch traders opened huge sugar plantations here  run on the backs of slaves. Eventually, the slaves were emancipated but the Dutch governors bankrupted the island with their lavish ways.

The United States, looking for a strategic location during World War I to protect its Panama Canal interests, took it off the Dutch’s hands for $25 million dollars. Now a self-governed territory, and administered by the Department of the Interior, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, and many other small islands are still part of the USA under the name U.S. Virgin Islands.


Ms. Armstrong leads us on a short walk over to the old sugar mill where we had Happy Hour last night.

She points out several birds and plants of the island around the area. This old stone structure was a cistern for the old mill.

Inside the mill itself, we’re told of the fruit bats that like to live here.


Finally, we get to inspect the fruit of the calabash tree, which is used for making maracas.

I had told my wife that I’d treat her to a massage at the hotel’s spa. Instead, she asks, can she use the money to buy a bracelet she saw in Christiansted?


Off into town we go where we park at the Fort Christianvern National Monument (great place to find free parking downtown, by the way).  Sonya jewelers is nearby, where my wife finds her souvenir.

Afterward, we head over to our new favorite island hangout, Fort Christian Brewpub. It’s Thursday and today’s special is $10 pitchers and 10 wings for $7.

We get the bargain basement specials and I get an idea.

The water is very clear in the harbor, clearer that the beach at the hotel where I did a little snorkeling but it was a bit murky. I’ve got an underwater camera but, so far, it isn’t doing me too much good but there is a ton of fish right off the dock here in clear water.

I ask the bartender if I can borrow a broomstick. He finds one, I clamp the camera on it, lower it in the water while Letty feeds the hungry tarpon our leftover chicken bones.


Watch The Video!

Watch the video above for the results and to acquaint yourself with the soon-to-be-famous chicken bone eating tarpon of St. Croix. Just as fun but less smelly than the world famous beer drinking pigs up in the jungle.

We’ll wrap up our time in St. Croix in our next report.


Darryl
Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands


Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands...


Christiansted National Historic Site - Partially Accessible. The grounds, the old weighing house (scale) and bottom floor of the Customs House are accessible. Unfortunately, the jewel of the site...Fort Christianvern...has a few steps to get inside, rendering it inaccessible.


Captain Morgan Distillery - Fully Accessible. This newer distillery (Cruzan is also made on the island) found out their tour tram was wheelchair accessible with a ramp. Now we can happily report this very fun tour and tasting room can handle our specialty wheeled travelers.

Buck Island Boat Charters - Inaccessible. We could not find one boat that could really take a wheelchair user, who couldn't walk, onto a tour...even though a couple advertised they could.


Cane Bay Beach - Partially Accessible. A ramp is used by scuba divers to wade out to the Wall, a world-famous dive spot. Wheelchair users can also use it (with some help from a friend) to get into the great snorkeling water closer to shore, too.


Mt. Pellier Domino Club (Drinking Pigs) - Mostly Accessible. Ask the attendants to show you the rustic wheelchair ramp in the back of the pig pen. 


Walking Tour of the Buccaneer Hotel - Mostly Accessible. Contact the hotel for details at (340) 712-2100


Christiansted Boardwalk - Mostly Accessible. The islands go-to point for shopping, drinking, and dining boasts some great views and hungry tarpon looking for a handout from tourists. A few shops have steps to get in.

Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 27, 2014

"You Beer Swilling Pig!"...and Other Island Stories: St. Croix, Part 5


Previously on The World on Wheels:
St. Croix - Part 1
St. Croix - Part 2
St. Croix - Part 3
St. Croix - Part 4

History, swine, and hospitality are on today’s agenda in St. Croix.



Even though we put on copious amounts of sunscreen yesterday, we’re still a bit past done on our tans. Feeling the effects of our burns, plus the beginning of the itching from last night’s bug bites (the hotel puts a couple of cans of bug repellent in each room – use it), we commiserate over another bountiful breakfast before heading out for the day’s exploration.


While the eastern end of the island (where we’re staying) is dry and not real lush, the trade winds drop much more precipitation on the west end. There’s a rain forest there we want to go to.

Yesterday, Letty tried to navigate via maps into the mountains of the west end and after much turning and twisting through the back roads, we suddenly found ourselves back where we started at the Sion Farms shopping center.

Watch the Video!


Before leaving, I visit the concierge and get written directions. They’re more like “make a right after two stop lights, turn left at the police station, turn right at Golden Rock Shopping Center…” With the poorly signed roads on the island, these directions work better than the map.

Today, we make it. After driving along the north coast beach called Cane Bay, we make a left onto a rather infamous, steep, potholed, and twisty road.

On the first weekend in May, an Ironman triathlon is held on the island. It is called the “Beauty and the Beast” because of the unbelievable scenery the racers go through. Oh yeah, on the bikes they hit the “beast,” the road we’re on now.

It’s hard enough in a car. It looks impossible to pedal up on a bike.

A little tricky with the directions but soon we see Carambola Bay Country Club, another crucial landmark in the concierge’s directions. After that, we see a sign to the rainforest and we’re in thick jungle. Tall trees dangle long vines into the roadway. It’s a very different world from the other end of the island.


A couple of sharp turns and we’re at St. Croix’s most famous jungle bar, the Mount Pellier Domino Club.

At the bamboo bar, we sip on frozen banana daiquiris while the two bartenders sing along to Billy Idol. Finishing our sweet, cold concoctions, we get to the business at hand.

Buying a couple of cans of non-alcoholic beer, we’re escorted out back to a well hidden ramp extending to a giant green box in the jungle. The bartender opens the door where we end up on a small concrete patio with four pens.


Suddenly, a giant boar pops up, mouth wide, snorting hungrily. We’ve found the famous beer drinking pigs of St. Croix.


Yeah, it’s a tourist trap of the highest magnitude but at least it’s cheap. It’s a buck a head to get in and two bucks per beer and you get to go into the rather fragrant compound to stick a can of beer in a pig’s mouth, watch him crack it open, down it, and spit out the can.

One of the more unique attractions on the island.

Making our way down the Beast, back to Cane Bay, we saw an ice cream stand on the beach. Tim’s had a hankering for some for a couple of days now and we promised him we’d stop on the way down.


After manhandling him out of the car, into his chair, and wrestling it across the sand to the tables under the tent, I go up to the bar (yeah, even the ice cream stands have full bars here) to order the ice cream for him.

“We don’t have ice cream.”

“But your sign says you do…you even have a big picture of an ice cream cone on it.”

“I know but we don’t have any…I could make you a chocolate milkshake instead.”

So, we went with the shake while Letty and I took turns looking at sea life in the coral next to shore.


Nearby, scuba divers were swimming in from their adventure. Just off shore is the famous “Wall.” Shallow water, wading depth, extends about a hundred yards offshore until it suddenly drops over a sheer thousand feet. Divers love to explore this underwater cliff.

We spend a little more time relaxing on Cane Bay beach before packing back up and continuing on.

Before getting back into Christiansted, we make a quick left turn at an unmarked road next to the Salt River Marina. It took us a few tries to find this road but we finally found it.

About a half mile in, we find what we’re looking for, Columbus Landing Beach. The name says it all, this is the beach that the explorer landed on in 1493…520 years ago.


If you stand at just the right location, you won’t see the houses or civilization behind you.

At that point, it looks much as it did over half a millennium ago.  Just don’t look down at the litter by your feet.

The concierge had found a boat captain who was willing to take us out to Buck Island for a dive adventure. She arranged for us to meet him on the dock at Christiansted on our way back when he came back into port after the day’s tour.


After having a beer at Fort Christian Brewpub and watching the seaplanes take off out of the harbor, our boat comes in. We meet Captain Mike, and he is willing to take us, but the steep, slippery, and long landing ladder we’d have to negotiate on the island is just beyond our capacities and Tim’s disability.

Sadly, a boat dive trip will not be on this week’s agenda.

Back at the Buccaneer Hotel, we make it just in time for the weekly manager’s reception. It’s a happy hour where guests mingle, sip rum punch or wine, and listen to the steel drum musician.

The hotel owner, Elizabeth Armstrong, shows up to introduce herself to each guest and see how their stay is going. Ms. Armstrong meets us, chats, and finds out we couldn’t do the boat trip but invites us to walk with her tomorrow for an accessible walking tour pointing out the historic sites, flora, and fauna of the expansive hotel grounds.


As the giant Moku Jumbie dancers wobble their way around the guests, we decide to take her up on it.

A tall dancer high-fives Tim, straddles over a line of guests, as we wind down another day in the Virgin Islands.

We’ll be back to continue this adventure after a night’s rest. See you then…


Darryl
Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 26, 2014

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: A Drinking Tour of St. Croix


On location in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, join us for a drinking tour of the island.



In the video below, we visit one of the island's legendary rum distilleries.


Watch the Video!


While Cruzan is the traditional St. Croix rum, it's facilities are old and inaccessible to wheelchairs. Fortunately, Captain Morgan rums relocated here a year ago and their brand new, state-of-the-art distillery is.



We also turn into a bunch of posers as we learn the official Captain Morgan pose.



Next, it's on to frozen banana daiquiris at the Mt. Pellier Domino Club, more famous for the residents that make beer-swilling pigs of themselves but the drinks are still cool and refreshing at the bamboo bar in the middle of the jungle.



We make sure we get all the free booze we can get at the hotel by going to the weekly happy hour, the wine tasting, and the rum tasting (there's Cruzan!).



We almost lived at the beautiful waterfront Fort Christian Brewpub where, in addition to the great beer, we meet the chicken wing eating tarpon of St. Croix.

It's all in the video above, come along...



Cheers!

Darryl

Friday, October 24, 2014

Far Flung Points, Posers, and All the Beaches Inbetween - St. Croix, Part 4


“I have a challenge for you,” I tell the concierge. “We’d like to take a snorkel trip to Buck Island but we haven’t been able to find a boat willing to take the wheelchair.”

“Challenge accepted,” she tells us.


While she goes off to find that tour, we’re off to find the sunrise.  No, we’re not actually getting up at the crack of dawn, we’re just driving to the end of the island.

Watch The Video!

Point Udall is the eastern end of the island.  It’s also the eastern-most point of the United States.

It’s still hard to wrap our heads around that this is still our country…part of the good ‘ole U.S. of A…but it is. This barren little rock outcropping is the first soil in our country to feel the sun’s rays.


A monument put up at the millennium alludes to this fact.

I peer over the side to see the extreme end of the point. The rocky outcropping is constantly pounded by waves.


There’s even a little waterspout when the waves hit it just right.

Now, let’s go find the island’s most famous industry, the rum.

St. Croix has been making fine Caribbean rum for over 300 years. Cruzan is their brand and is found as the well liquor in just about every bar on the island. The distillery offers tours but it is full of stair climbing and is not hospitable to wheechairs.

We’d like to take a tour but this just doesn’t sound like much fun for Tim. Luckily, there is now another option.


Recently, Captain Morgan rums relocating their distillery from nearby Puerto Rico to a new plant near the airport. It’s new, this is the United States…home of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it should be accessible…right?

We pull into the handicapped spot in front of the new visitor’s center. Inside, we’re told that the tram used for the tour is not wheelchair accessible and that there is also one part of the tour where visitors get off the tram and walk a little bit.

I ask if I can transfer Tim into the tram and if he can stay on it during the walking part. The answer is yes to both so we sign up for the tour (no pictures allowed during the factory part).

We roll Tim out to the tram, which looks like the kind Universal Studios uses for their backlot tours. We’re escorted to the side where one tour guide notices the seat behind the driver folds up.

“If you can lift both him and the wheelchair, you can put him there,” she says.

No, I can’t lift both but I can transfer him into the seat onboard.

Then the other tour guide notices a slot under the floor of the tram.

“What’s this?” she asks and pulls on a strap there. Low and behold, a ramp slides out. In operation for a year, no one had noticed there was a wheelchair ramp built into the side of the tram.

They pull it out, I wheel Tim onboard, and beg to take a picture.

“But you don’t understand, a lot of wheelchair users follow our travels and would be thrilled to know your tour is accessible,” I plead.


After a few minutes, I’m finally given permission to take one, really quick picture. It turns out Tim is the very first wheelchair visitor they’ve ever had and I am happy to report that the Captain Morgan distillery tour in St. Croix is now fully wheelchair accessible…even the walking part halfway through.

After the tour, we watch a very entertaining film about the brand and learn how to do the “pose” while sipping samples of their dozen or so rums in the bar.


During this little “happy hour,” we also get to have two cocktails of our choice mixed with one of their brands, of course. We spend another hour in the gift shop looking for souvenirs and rum. It is a very inexpensive place to buy it. Before I left home, I saw Captain Morgan Spiced Rum for sale at Costco for $34.99. Here? It’s $9…no tax, either (U.S. citizens can take up to 6 liters of liquor home duty-free, as long as at least one bottle is made on the island).

We take a dozen bottles home.


Back at the Buccaneer, we change into our swim trunks and head to the beach. There are three beaches here but most people only go to two. Mermaid Beach and Grotto Beach. We go to Grotto because they also have a swimming pool there.

The road is long and the hill steep enough that you don’t want to walk down to the beach from the great house, especially with a wheelchair. The hotel runs shuttles up and down the hill all day long but we opt to drive in the rental car. That way we can set our own schedule and throw a six pack of beer in the back to supply us on the beach.


Not quite accessible, it takes two steps to get to poolside here but I’m able to back Tim down them pretty easily. We blow up an inner tube and Letty and I get him into the pool without a problem. Tim takes a couple of hours to float around the pool while Letty and I tag team to stay with him there while the other goes swimming in the adjacent ocean.


I get a diving mask, snorkel, and fins from the beach shack and head to the coral reef just offshore. It’s a bit murky since there was a storm a couple of days ago, with lots of little bits of seaweed floating around. Not really great and not really worth the great effort it would take to get Tim in the water.

Still, I was able to get a little video of it, which you can watch in the embedded video, above.


As the day comes to an end at Grotto Beach, we go back up the hill to make homemade rum punches, sit on the terrace and listen to the sounds of the house band playing on the beach and wafting up to our room on the sunset breeze.


Darryl
Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: London, England


Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's London, England...


Tower of London - Partially Accessible. You will get to see just about everything except the original inner tower. The Beafeaters here are very good with making sure wheelchair users get the maximum benefit from their tour. Carers are admitted free and the Tower Hill Underground station, across the street, is also wheelchair accessible with a lift.


London Eye - Fully Accessible. Carers admitted free here, too. Ride is smooth as glass and really not that scary at all. Views on a clear day are incredible.


Westminster Abbey - Partially Accessible. Some side chapels and the underground graves will be inaccessible but there is still a lot to see here.

Churchill War Rooms (formerly Cabinet War Rooms) - Fully Accessible. Fascinating first-hand glimpse to the spot where England coordinated the war effort in World War II.

Old Globe Theatre - Mostly Accessible. The recreated theatre of the Bard is a very good accessible attraction on the south bank of the Thames.


Royal Naval Observatory (Greenwich-Prime Meridian) - Fully Accessible. It is a rather long tube ride and a long hike up a hill to get there, however.

Transit - All Black Cabs are accessible and expensive, all but two bus lines are accessible via the back door, many Underground stations are accessible, click here for a map.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Crashes, Feeding Frenzies, Disappointments, and Triumphs: St. Croix, Part 3



Need to catch up? Click on the following links for Part 1 and Part 2 of this trip.

We’re here, we’re squared away as far as access goes…why don’t we start enjoying St. Croix?

The Buccaneer is an historic, family run hotel sitting on over 300 acres just east of the town of Christiansted. It’s a rambling affair with a great house on the hilltop overlooking three beaches and a golf course. All guests receive a complimentary, full breakfast buffet with an option of omelets or eggs cooked to order.

Watch the Video!


Since we’re trying to do this on a budget, the plan is to eat a big breakfast to last us most of the day so we can skip lunch and save a little money on this expensive island.


Heaping piles of creamy scrambled eggs, grits, bacon, and sausage sit on our plates followed by a bowl of fresh pineapple chunks, oranges, grapes, and bananas. Steamy coffee wakes us up and a variety of juices gives us a filling and healthy way to start the day. All this fresh and delicious food is attended to some of the friendliest staff you’ll meet.


Looking to the west, we can see the harbor at Christiansted. It’ll be quiet on this Sunday morning so we’ll go over and have a look around after tipping our waiter.

It’s a two mile, fairly hair raising drive over to the town. Driving in the Virgin Islands is unique. Yes, you’re still in the United States but it’s a bit different here. For one thing, you drive on the left. I’ve done this in Ireland and really had no problem adjusting but there’s another curve these islands throw at you…you’re driving American style cars…which mean the driver sits on the left and drives on the left, not right-hand drive like you’d see in the UK or Ireland.


It is quite disconcerting and takes a bit of getting used to. To start off, the narrow little driveway of the hotel is a roundabout with a fountain in it. I’m watching on the right to make sure I have room when I suddenly hear the awful sound of metal scraping concrete. I’ve just put a large, crescent shaped dent in the driver’s door by rubbing up against the fountain.

We manage to extract ourselves, curse a bit, and hope that American Express will really cover the damage. With that behind us, we continue on to town without incident.


Downtown Christiansted is a warren of tiny little narrow one-way streets. Parking is scarce but we do find two handicapped spots open two short blocks from the waterfront. Luckily, we remembered to bring a parking placard with us.

Walking down to the boardwalk is an adventure in accessibility…roll down the sidewalk a bit, cross over mid block where there’s a ramp to cross over, get halfway down the next block and finish by rolling in the street until we hit water.


A dive shop offering snorkeling tours to Buck Island, just offshore, is open. On the web, they say they accommodate disabled tourists so we stop in and ask.

“Can he walk down stairs?” we’re asked.

“No.”

“Well you need to be able to walk up stairs into the boat and off of the boat when we get to the island for snorkeling.”

“But on the Internet it says you take disabled people out for snorkeling…you even have a picture of a guy in a wheelchair on the boat.”

“We do, but they have to be able to walk up and down stairs.”

“They don’t sound too disabled to me,” I finish up with and leave.

We’ll see if we can do some shore diving at the hotel and task the concierge into finding us a trip we can take. In the meantime, next door is Rum Runners, a waterfront bar, with very large fish swimming in the water under the dock.


“They’re tarpon,” someone says.

We strike a long conversation with a local lady just enjoying the dock while surfing on her iPhone.

“They’re not good eating so we leave them alone. Sometimes people will catch them, cut them up, and use for bait.”

We learn something new each day.

A short stroll to the other end of the boardwalk brings us to Fort Christian National Historic Park. Since Tim has a Golden Access Pass, we don’t have to pay the $3 admission into the fort. Doesn’t really matter since only the area inside the gate is accessible. The volunteer on duty tells us they can’t put a ramp inot the fort because of the historical nature.

I politely suggest that she should pass the word along that non-permanent ramps and lifts have been used at national historic sites like the White House and Fort Sumpter, maybe they could look into it?

While Tim takes a look at the binder full of pictures and descriptions, Letty and I go into the fort to explore and take pictures.


Under a half-staff flag (we were there just days after the Boston Marathon bombing) sits a row of cannon to ward off pirates and invading navies…never used by the way. Down below is the powder magazine, next to the officer’s day room and armory. Across the courtyard is the tiny, cramped, dungeon where recalcitrant slaves were punished, along with some small detention cells.

Outside the fort is the old custom house with another building still holding the old scales where cargo was weighed to establish the tax owed.


A couple of hundred yards offshore is a five acre island called Protestant Cay. It looks lovely with many trees, flowers, and a wide sandy beach. There’s also the Hotel on the Cay there, offering some unique and low priced accommodations on their own little island paradise.

I don’t think it’s too accessible, though.


We finish off our first foray into town at the waterfront Fort Christian Brewpub, the Virgin Islands' only microbrewery.  We have some calamari and beer when one of the very mean feral cats comes to beg. I say mean because I found out just how feral it was when I reached down to pet him. I’m lucky I still have a hand…

The bartender goes over to the water and throws something in. There is a big splashing commotion so we go over to take a look.

He’s throwing chicken bones into the water, which immediate sends the tarpon into a feeding frenzy. It’s quite a sight to see.

Apparently, it’s a tradition here to order chicken wings at the pub and then throw the leftover bones into the bay where the tarpon will gladly swallow them whole.

With a little island brew, history, and cheap entertainment under our belt, we head back to the hotel.

I meet tonight’s musicians unloading their van in front of our room. Junie is his name, as he introduces himself to me along with his son Rocky and associate Charles.

“I’ve never heard of anyone with the last name of Musick,” he tells me with great amusement. “Come and see the show.”


We do. Junie and Rocky provide a great, steel-drum set of music while we sip on cocktails on the terrace. Junie sees Tim and says “you have a special son.”

Yes, I guess I do.

“I have a special son too,” he tells me as he points to Rocky, who is now across the room surfing the Internet on the hotel's lobby computer. “He has ADHD and was put on all kinds of medicine including Ritalin. I had enough, it was just poisoning his head and it’s easier to deal without it.”

He tells me he’s been playing here at the Buccaneer since he was eight.

“The first night I was here there were battleships, aircraft carriers, and destroyers offshore. The Kennedy brothers and Lyndon Johnson were sitting where you were. It was during the Cuban missile crisis.”

He tells me of his family’s history on the island and the ranch they own.

“I’m cash poor and land rich but I consider myself a very wealthy man. My wealth is over there,” he says, as he points to Rocky. “That’s all the riches I need.”

Junie and the Jungle, as they call themselves, go back onstage for the second set as we finish off our drinks and head back to the suite.



A suitable introduction to our home for the next five days.


Darryl
Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved